SIMON Well for the past few weeks New Zealand First Leader, Winston Peters, has had the government on the defensive over immigration. He argues that every terrorist regime and undesirable ratbag now knows that New Zealand's Immigration Service is a soft touch and he's increasing support for his party which is now sitting on nearly 10% of the UMR Insight poll, enough support for the previously pro ACT weekly newspaper the National Business Review to argue yesterday that Mr Peters should lead a New Zealand First national coalition government, he's with me now. Welcome to the programme Mr Peters.
Polling scenarios suggest you well might again end up holding the balance of power on election night, who do you prefer as a potential coalition partner?
WINSTON Well in New Zealand First we don’t have any regard to those polls and we don’t speculate as to what might happen after election night. You see the decision of democracy is what the people say on election day and we await that.
SIMON Okay forget the polling then who do you prefer as a potential coalition partner at this point?
WINSTON Well again we're a democratic party, no one person decides these issues, it's decided by the party as a body and I don’t know why it is that after all this time and one of the longest democracies in the whole world we're still hearing those sort of questions we're still hearing those sort of questions.
SIMON I mean you are vacillating a little on this because …
WINSTON No I'm not, no I'm not.
SIMON Every other party has told us where they stand more or less.
WINSTON That’s why they're dying.
SIMON Well you also campaign on transparency and honesty isn't it time to let the electorate know where you stand on this and where the party stands?
WINSTON No sorry. It's time to let the electorate know that they have the decision that they have all the power, they will decide on election day who goes where and what and in what numbers. This idea that the journalists of this country will decide the next election before it's even held is not gonna get any currency with me or my party.
SIMON Well in 1996 you annoyed a lot of people by taking six weeks to make a decision, people want to know where you stand at this point.
WINSTON Well actually I took seven weeks, it was the first time ever that there was an MMP election and counties like Holland and all round Europe they take sometimes three months, but the media wanted me to sort of hire Lancaster Park, turn on the lights and the radio and make them part of it. The New Zealand public have come to learn that coalitions are made from negotiations, it'll take much less time next time but the whole debate is meaningless unless you’re prepared to wait for the public to decide who is going to be in parliament and in what numbers.
SIMON So you’re saying you could work with either Labour or National?
WINSTON We don’t rule anybody out, we don’t rule anybody in.
SIMON What about potential other parties in a coalition, could you work with the Greens?
WINSTON Well you know I don’t know whether the public will deliver the Greens up at the next election.
SIMON Say they do though, say they do and that’s the scenario….
WINSTON Here we go, this is a very critical issue and we are involved in speculation and we don’t know what the outcome is. Let me ask this question, do you know what day the election is this year?
SIMON I don’t think anybody does.
WINSTON Only one person and only one person in this democracy knows while business is stalled making decisions, while everybody waits around one person keeps it to herself, now why don’t you ask that question about this democracy cos it's far more significant than the one you’re asking.
SIMON Well she's not hear to answer that question so we'll have to stick with what we've got.
WINSTON When she was you didn’t ask her did you?
SIMON Yes we did, yes we did and she refused to answer at that point.
WINSTON How about putting up the outrage of that, we've got four million New Zealanders and the rest of the world who want to do trading and deals in commerce and many of those decisions are being suspended until the election date is known and we don’t know.
SIMON She's not the only politician of course people are getting outraged over not hearing answers from but what would be your bottom line requirements to enter a coalition, what do you need what would it have to be, what are the non negotiable areas.
WINSTON Well you know you can't really go into an arrangement where you've gotta give up a bit to get the lot and start naming what your bottom line is.
SIMON What about privatisation, could you work with a party that was prepared to enter into greater privatisations?
WINSTON Everybody, everyone that deals with New Zealand First and Winston Peters knows that we are for the ownership of New Zealand assets by New Zealand. We are losing 12 billion dollars every year from profits going abroad, we've got a net indebtedness of 123 billion dollars, everyone knows New Zealand First ….
SIMON Are you suggesting that you won't enter into a coalition with a party who is prepared to enter into privatisation?
WINSTON No that’s quite the contrary you see. What I'd suggest is that some other party might be prepared to change their rather failed policies to accommodate us.
SIMON But you couldn't get everything you wanted though could you?
WINSTON No you can't no.
SIMON Okay so could work with a party that was prepared to privatise is that was necessary?
WINSTON No the answer's no, categorically no. New Zealand First is for the ownership of New Zealand assets by New Zealanders. One of the great failings of this economy for the last – since 1984 is the fact that we sold our birthright and we are now number 40 in the world according to the World Bank, that is in terms of per capita incomes, incomes per person, we have fallen from two to number 40. When are they gonna wake up and understand what happened here?
SIMON Let's look at immigration, where is that in terms of the negotiability in coalition?
WINSTON Well I just want to say that it was a very good job you did before this programme started by the rehearsals and practise you put into that person from Korea, it's quite disgraceful you know. Anyone who's half away with sand could see that she was rehearsing her lines and it's a setup, but despite that I mean we are not anti immigrant in New Zealand First we are for a focused immigration programme that brings people here that we need rather than what you've got now, which by their own definition is uniquely a disgrace.
SIMON So you accept that we do need people obviously.
WINSTON Oh we always have. It's one of our founding principles, one of our founding principles is that we'll always need immigration for the following reasons but they have gotta be to do with our economic expansion, trebling our exports, filling the gaps of science and research and education, but let me tell you this after 14 years of mass immigration first by National and then Labour we've got a bigger skills gap than we've ever had.
SIMON These people that you say that we need, the highly skilled, where do you want them to come from, does it matter?
WINSTON It doesn’t matter. As long as they're coming her to make New Zealand their home, to sign up to our values and to be great citizens that’s wonderful, and I tell you what many of them are hugely successful at doing that.
SIMON Why do the scandals that you’re uncovering seem to be solely Asian?
WINSTON Well I didn’t know that Iraq was in Asia. You see Asia stops in Turkey, most politicians don’t understand that either.
SIMON And Iraq is slightly east of Turkey I believe. Why does it though, I mean are you really saying that you want European immigrants who are highly skilled, because we haven't seen any scandals from there, we see scandals from a very limited ….
WINSTON Well that is with respect, some of you people have to get with the programme here, I didn’t organise for one of Saddam's ministers to come to New Zealand at this particular time.
SIMON Okay, well let's talk about Mr Al Kashali, cos you revealed in parliament on May 3rd that he was in New Zealand. How much more do you know about him?
WINSTON A lot more.
SIMON Like what?
WINSTON Well if you go back to the rise of the Bath Party in Iraq, their accession to power and the murder and mayhem and violence of that regime at that very time and then on the Kurds you will realise what they are guilty of, the whole organisation, of which he was a key operative back then. He might look like an old man now but it's like saying well Pinoché should be let off despite all the disasters and the human suffering that was involved in his regime.
SIMON You say you know a lot more, you alleged in the House that he was also responsible for the production of chemical weapons in Iraq?
WINSTON No I didn’t say – what I said was that his ministry because of the agricultural products and agricultural chemicals they were the founding base of the chemicals industry that built up in Iraq, that’s commonly known.
SIMON His lawyer of course is saying that you've actually assisted his claim for refugee status by publicising his case and therefore making it more dangerous for him to return to Iraq.
WINSTON Let me say about his lawyer this, you know he can come on your programme and make those statements even though the facts stand starkly against his argument, his lawyer knows full well that before he went to see him, that Mr Laurent, he went to see McLeod & Associates before I'd even named him, even after leaving five days in parliament for the government to find him, he'd already gone there to lodge a refugee application with his wife and all those details are known, so why would his lawyer make that blatantly false statement,. if it wasn’t for the fact that he thinks this is a PR game and we're gonna wear and pay for.
SIMON There's an element of truth there though isn't there, you publicised the case and therefore you know it's widely publicised probably back in Iraq that here is this man, and it's dangerous for him to go now isn't it?
WINSTON No, no, if when you’re playing baseball you've gotta get to first base before you can go to second base okay, the first base story is this, was he a person who came here to lodge a refugee application and that he'd do that, or try and do that before he was named. If the answer's yes he can't even make first base in your story.
SIMON Let's look at the other one then, another one that you named, Isaac Yago, supposedly a member – allegedly a member of Saddam's elite palace guard, another refugee, what do you know of him?
WINSTON A lot actually.
SIMON Was he just a palace guard, how responsible was he, how much access did he have to the leaders of power?
WINSTON You know there are number of people watching this programme who are Iraqi who would find what you’re asking most amusing cos they know exactly what I'm talking about.
SIMON Well if they know and they're telling you, I'm assuming it's them who are telling you is it?
SIMON Well why won't you tell us?
WINSTON Well because I mean…
SIMON Is it because you’re just drip feeding this for political gain?
WINSTON No you asked the question, I didn’t ask the question you did.
SIMON No I know and I'm looking for an answer, what do you know about him. You say a lot but you don’t give us any detail.
WINSTON How can I be drip feeding when you asked me the question?
SIMON Because I'm asking you for the details.
WINSTON Yes I do know lots about Mr Yago and I'm not going to waste my time with him any more, I just want to point out that he is a palace guard, there's one in Christchurch, significant numbers of the military came here.
SIMON So he's not just another insignificant serviceman?
WINSTON No no a whole lot of the military from Iraq, these people right were all involved in defence of Saddam up and came here and many of them abused the United Nations programme, lied and cheated their way into this country and they came in with the greatest of ease.
SIMON If you know so much more why can't we hear it now?
WINSTON Well you know I spent five years writing to two ministers, first Leanne Dalziel and then Paul Swain, I've got the files and I never received a reply on one thing I brought to their attention, not one.
SIMON How many more of them are there, you said in the Herald that there are others, how many more do you know about?
WINSTON There's a stack of them here.
SIMON How many?
WINSTON Oh I dunno, I can't be finite about it but I spose
WINSTON About 45. That I know about.
SIMON And you’re gaining more information on all these people?
WINSTON Yes because there are genuine patriotic Iraqi New Zealanders who came here to escape the mayhem of their lives to start a new life and they don’t like it.
SIMON So you’re saying that these 45 were connected with the Saddam regime?
WINSTON A lot of them are yes and a lot of them are military officers for a start.
SIMON You yourself said that New Zealand First has been labelled as xenophobic and racist, don’t you think it's somewhat ironic that sources are leaking this type of information to you?
WINSTON It's not ironic I mean the reality is that people who talk to me from that community actually have a belief in New Zealand, they are appalled as the head of the Iraqi Refugee Council was to find that this person was living in this country, he remembers him, he knows who I'm talking about, and they want a decent society. You know contrary to what you say it's not ironic, they know that they will not be, their names will not be given over to anyone, that their secrets are safe with me in that sense of the word, and you know I find it a very admirable thing on their part.
SIMON New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters thank you very much for you time today.
WINSTON Thank you.
SIMON Gentlemen you've heard what Winston Peters had to say, your reactions please.
DAMIEN Oh well look that classic Winston isn't it, love him, hate him, he never disappoints and he's in full election mode and he's on a winner.
CHRIS You know you just can't forget it's election year can you, I mean when I first came to New Zealand on a visit 12 years ago I think you know it became apparent that Winston Peters was the most charismatic and engaging politician here and nothing changes does it, you know he's got a knack of grabbing the headlines and he will milk it.
SIMON He's not give a look in, he's not gonna give us detail, that’s gonna be drip fed between now and whatever day you choose as an election.
DAMIEN Oh look he's probably got a list of 50 Iraqi names and we'll probably get one a week.
CHRIS And if we're being honest he's kind of like any good journalist, he's hoping by bringing a certain amount of information out it will bring more to him you know, he probably hasn’t got as much as he's suggesting.
DAMIEN It's gone up, look it's been worth probably three percentage points in the rating, in the popularity ratings for him. By election time who knows he could be 10%, and if he is Helen Clark watch out.
CHRIS Well there was a poll last weekend that was quite worrying for Helen and you know he's certainly working his magic isn't he?
SIMON What about the coalition possibilities?
CHRIS I think it's an Iraqi minefield isn't it. You know perish the thought, but
SIMON He's not closing any doors basically.
DAMIEN No why would he? Would you?
SIMON What I think's irrelevant, but you know others have been more open with where they stand whether we declare beforehand or whether we say we're going to negotiate afterwards I mean he's just keeping every single option.
DAMIEN Of course he is, he's a slippery snake, I mean he's been doing this a while, he knows how to play the game and play to win.
CHRIS But when he talks about the privatisation issue and would be jump into bed with someone who was unilaterally opposed to his principles on that, I mean that’s rubbish I mean if he gets a window of opportunity to get into government he’ll be there.
SIMON I mean that’s what happened in 96, everyone thought he was gonna go with Labour he ends up with National and that really annoyed a lot of people, can he afford to do that this time, can he afford to delay, I think he was blaming MMP the system for taking so long and that that indicated he was responsible last time.
DAMIEN Well I think his strategy will be, he’ll wait for them to come to him, I think he thinks he can be in a position where he is deciding.
SIMON He can be the powerbroker again.
CHRIS Once your in a position of influence you can achieve anything I guess so he's never gonna say no is he?
SIMON Are all his cards there with being powerbroker is that where it really lies, I mean because you've got the Maori Party on the fringes as well possibly role?
DAMIEN Well all of it amounts to a whole lot of trouble for Helen Clark doesn’t it, I mean if she loses all those seven Maori seats he picks up another couple of percentage points, it's diabolical, it's a diabolical scenario for Helen Clark.
CHRIS Yeah I'd agree with Damien there.
SIMON What the Prime Minister says to journalists in private has suddenly become news with the decision by the Sunday Star Times to name her as their source for a story alleging former Police Commissioner Peter Doone had been drinking when he was stopped for a routine breath test. Helen Clark says that decision could have a chilling effect on her relations with the media. Now Barry Soper is a veteran Press Gallery journalist who's been privy to the secrets of Prime Ministers going back to Sir Robert Muldoon, and he is with me now.
How well do you know Helen Clark, Barry?
BARRY Oh pretty well, I mean I was in parliament when she came in as a fresh faced youth I guess, but you know she's probably more accessible to journalists than any other Prime Minister and you say Rob Muldoon, we used to ring Rob Muldoon and he would answer the phone with a grunt and unless you really had something to say or he knew what the business was about he wouldn’t talk to you whereas Helen Clark is much more open, you give her a call and she'll spill the beans on a number of issues, so it comes as no surprise in that Sunday Star Times story that she was the main source, but the thing that I think is probably more disturbing is the fact that a source is revealed. Now I tried to get the Commonwealth Press Union to take a position on this a couple of weeks ago and they weren't prepared to do so because the spokesperson for it here is Tim Pankhurst, the Dominion Post Editor who also works for Fairfax. I think it's most disturbing that a source is revealed journalistically because it undermines the whole integrity of the business that we're involved in because constantly we're being told stuff in private, in confidence, but when we can't respect the confidences we're not in the game.
SIMON When you say you’re being told stuff in confidence by the Prime Minister you've got her personal cellphone number have you, you call her directly?
BARRY Oh absolutely.
SIMON What's the number Barry?
BARRY Oh well I haven't go my cellphone I can't remember, and I wouldn’t give it out here anyway because it's confidential.
SIMON What sort of things does she tell you in private?
BARRY I think Helen Clark is a very good talker and she floats ideas and they’ve gotta be checked out like any politician's ideas are checked out and you’re privy to a lot of information from Prime Minister and when I talk to my international colleagues about this they can't believe the accessibility that we have to our Prime Ministers, we simply pick up the blower and get on the line and have a yarn about something and she as I say she's more accessible than any of the seven Prime Ministers that I've been involved with during my time.
SIMON You say that you should check out what she says to you, is that common practice or is she just often the unattributed the source said, does her word not need corroboration?
BARRY Well I guess she is the oracle when it comes to politics at the moment but the fact of the matter is a journalist is not doing his or her job if they don’t check out a line a politician's spinning and there's no doubt in my mind that Helen Clark will tell you a certain thing and it'll be to float it publicly, but if you don’t check it out of course you’re not doing your job and like with any politician that gives you a piece of information that you think is interesting then you should check it out.
SIMON This from the Herald page A5 the Brevities Today, Prime Minister Helen Clark told the Sunday Star Times to check what former Police Commissioner Peter Doone said before publishing its story, a source has told the press in Christchurch. The press said its source had said Helen Clark had warned the journalist to go back to your source before using the comment that won't be necessary. The source, the source, is Helen Clark often the source?
BARRY Well Politics if a sourcy business I guess you'd have to say on that. You know there are many sources in politics and one of course is the person that you had on a few minutes ago Winston Peters, he's a good source, and you sit and you talk to him about various issues.
SIMON So they will speak off the record and you'll attribute it to them as a source?
BARRY Well it depends on the story really Simon, and it depends on where you’re wanting to go with the story and the validity of the story, because first of all you've got to establish whether a story is legit or not, and politicians are known to spin stories for their own political purposes, and to me you know you always check the source and if the source is the politician, if it is in this case as it was with Sunday Star Times the Prime Minister then it's gotta be tested. Any information to me in our business that you’re given to, or given by politicians always has to be checked out because they’ve got a particular barrow to push and we're not in the business of pushing their particularly barrow.
SIMON Well let me bring in the panellists now they can ask you a couple of questions themselves.
DAMIEN Well look I think it's interesting that old Barry raised, he raises two issues here.
BARRY What's this old Barry business?
DAMIEN No I mean there are two issues, the one issue is you know revealing the sources, but I also ask the question what was the Sunday Star Times and the Prime Minister doing, what were they up to – I mean they were hanging, basically they were hanging Peter Doone out to dry weren't they and they’ve been caught.
BARRY I think he'd already hung himself out to dry though in respect to the story cos I remember it quite well, that there was no doubt that the government was about to fire him, they reached a settlement in the end and Peter Doone went, but you’re right to an extent that certainly Helen Clark was wanting to make it easier on herself to get rid of this bloke and by talking to the media in the way she did the Sunday Star Times, then it did make it easier, of he went.
CHRIS I mean we all know that politicians brief and brief heavily and that’s gone on time immemorial, but do you not think there is you know the revelation of source is aside, is there not a case that politicians need to be more accountable or accept that they’ve gotta be accountable to play in that game?
BARRY Well I think they are accountable. But when you’re wanting information as we – I mean it's our lifeblood in the Press Gallery that you know you've got to get the background to a story so you talk to a number of politicians to arrive at a point and as we all know as journalists there are many sources usually that go into a well balanced story and yeah you can talk to the Prime Minister as one point of view you talk to opposing factions. I'll just give you one example back in 1996 and Simon alluded to it earlier when Winston Peters was forming or deciding who was going to form the coalition government and spent seven weeks doing so, now I had lunch with one of Winston's confidantes during that and he said that Winston wants to be the Treasurer, now at that point nobody knew that and the notion that Winston Peters was going to be the Treasurer had never crossed anybody's path and certainly it had never been talked about. Well we came ran the story and I went to Michael Cullen and said Michael what's your view on Winston becoming the Treasurer, and he said over my dead body, which then led to the conclusion that there was no way that Winston if this is what he wanted was going to form a coalition government with the Labour Party and so we called all the way through and Newstalk ZB talked about the fact that Winston was going to go with the National Party not Labour, and we were the only one I think that consistently from that point on said that.
SIMON Barry let's bring that up to date then what do you know this time about Winston Peters?
BARRY Well I've heard a number of things about Winston Peters and again people will laugh at the notion that maybe there could be a power share with Don Brash in terms of sharing the prime ministership.
SIMON Well what about a power share with Helen Clark?
BARRY Oh Helen Clark would never accept it.
DAMIEN She might not have a choice mate, she might not have a choice.
BARRY It wouldn’t be even a choice she'd entertain, but with Don Brash you've gotta look at – you know from his point of view this is his one and only crack at becoming the Prime Minister, now certainly Winston Peters probably it'll be his one and only crack if he wants to become the Prime Minister and it's been done before in a parliamentary system like we've got as a power share between two people.
SIMON Veteran Press Gallery Journalist, Barry Soper thank you very much for your contribution to the programme today Barry.
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